My Top Ten of 2013

One of the best parts of working on Lemon-Squash has been the excuse it provides to read. A lot. While I try to share all of the really good books I discover with you, there are a few that have stood out as particular favourites. If you know me in person, there’s a pretty good chance I’ve already insisted that you read these. For those who don’t (and those who need a refresher), here are my top ten kids’ and YA reads from 2013.*

*These are titles I discovered and loved this year, not necessarily ones that were released in 2013. That said, at least a couple have sequels released this year or due to come out in 2014 that you should watch for, too.
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When I Was Eight written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

When I Was Eight coverAt eight years old, Olemaun helps with the sled dogs and her father’s hunting. Sometimes, her older sister reads her stories. But what Olemaun really wants to do is learn to read books for herself. She knows that you have to go to the outsiders’ residential school to do so, but it takes all winter to convince her father to let her go. When it’s finally warm enough to take the family’s furs into town for trading, Olemaun joyfully begins school — and discovers that not only will most of her time be spent working rather than learning, but one of the nuns has developed a personal grudge against her.

But Olemaun — now Margaret — is determined. She turns the same tenacity that got her into school to the task of getting her through it. Along the way, she takes every opportunity, from cluttered chalkboards to product labels, to practice her reading. In the process, she finds out that reading, and the stories it opens to her, give her resources to take on such challenges with confidence.

When I Was Eight is based on Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s own childhood experiences, and it does a beautiful job of making a difficult part of Canadian history accessible to very young readers. The story calls for some discussion with an adult in order to provide context, but it also makes space for positive conversations about the value of reading, and of tenacity in working for the things that are important to us.

If you’d like to share Olemaun’s story with older readers, check out Fatty Legs, which tells the story at a middle grade level, and includes photographs from Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s childhood at home and at the residential school.

See samples of Grimard’s gorgeous illustrations on the publisher’s page (just click “look inside” on the right side of the screen).

Find out what others thought at Kiss the Book and CM Magazine.

Thanks to NetGalley and Annick Press for the review copy.

Ten: Graphic Novel Biographies

Where the value of graphic novels is under debate, it may be helpful to have a few clearly educational titles to offer as an entry point to the form. Adaptations of classic novels abound, and fit beautifully into Ashley Thorne’s argument for valuing adaptations and abridgments for their ability to make substantial literature in its original form more accessible to readers. Another great option is graphic novel biographies, which not only introduce readers to some pretty amazing lives, but also, in some cases, accomplish more through the combination of printed words and pictures than might be possible in more traditional forms of storytelling. On the plus side, as is the case with classic lit adaptations, one graphic novel biography often points the way to more, either by the same author or in the same series — it seems to be an addictive sort of work!

By Jim Ottaviani
In partnership with a variety of illustrators, Jim Ottaviani has produced a long list of graphic novel biographies focused on the world of science and its intersection with society (e.g. politics, gender expectations, etc.). In addition to the titles below, look for Feynman, T-minus: The Race to the Moon, Suspended In Language: Niels Bohrs Life, Discoveries, And The Century He Shaped and more.

Primates: the Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
You’ve heard of Jane Goodall, but maybe not the others, yet. Ottaviani and Wicks give readers a glimpse of the lives and work of these three women, as well as some insight into how their work has contributed to the movement to conserve primate habitats. Continue reading

Primates: the Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

Primates coverYou may have heard of Jane Goodall and her dedicated work with chimpanzees. You may also have come across the names of the late Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas, who supported research efforts around endangered gorillas and the orangutan, respectively. But have you ever wondered why they became well known, or what it might take to live a life in the jungle?

Primates‘s graphic novel format makes their stories accessible. Readers will learn, for example, how Jane’s observations led to the need to redefine the term “man,” how Dian got right into ‘the scoop of things’ through her dung swirling technique, and about the accident that left Biruté’s bottom looking like a “burnt marshmallow.” They’ll also find out how all three women’s work stemmed from that of archaeologist and naturalist Dr. Louis Leakey.

This graphic novel offers a somewhat fictionalized telling of the trials and tribulations of the three female primatologists’ lives and their groundbreaking work as they observed the lives of chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans.

While gender gaps are being addressed, it is still rare to come across literary material that showcase the notable work of female role models. Past the appeal of the book jacket and the beautiful illustrations, what attracted me to this graphic novel was the focus on three powerful and dedicated women who made a difference in the history of science. The addition of a real photo of the three primatologists standing together as if they are in discussion, as well as a list of resources at the back of the book, encourages further curiosity about the lives of these scientists. The book can also be a route to building awareness about primates’ increasingly endangered habitats, and to furthering the fight for the preservation of what remains today.

See other reviews: NY Times Book ReviewNY Journal of Books Review and Finding Neverland.

Read the interview between staff at School Library Journal and author Jim Ottaviani.